Fresno State history professor finds local parallels in 1918 pandemic

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FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – From day-by-day counts of the infected, to overwhelmed hospitals, the banning of large gatherings, closures of schools and churches and even laws requiring masks. All are Fresno news headlines from 102 years ago.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was one of the deadliest in human history.

Fresno State history professor Ethan J. Kytle is researching the local history of the 1918 pandemic. He says, “We think 258 people died in Fresno in the flu wave of 1918-1919. … In our population today that would be about 3,000 people dying.”

Kytle has so far published five online ‘Dispatches from Fresno, 1918-19: Following the “Spanish” Flu Pandemic in Real Time’ where he notes some striking parallels to today.

Kytle says, “Fresno was pretty good in 1918 about getting on this as compared to other cities.  And it bore fruit from that. It was a devastating pandemic here as it was elsewhere but it wasn’t nearly as bad or nearly as lethal here in Fresno because of implementing some of these social distancing policies.”

The classes Kytle teaches have all moved online. In addition to learning history, his students now document it as well. “One of the new assignments I gave to students in one of my classes is to keep a weekly journal of their experiences in this historic moment.”

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